Kennedy: 10-year-old Chattanooga drummer wins national contest [with video]

Kennedy: 10-year-old Chattanooga drummer wins national contest [with video]

February 21st, 2019 by Mark Kennedy in Opinion Columns

Some of us are born with mental metronomes.

We don't just have rhythm, we are deeply in tune with time and tempo.

Connor Dodson won a national contest for naming the presidents while playing the drums. He memorized the presidents with the assistance of pictorial memory promos.

Connor Dodson won a national contest for naming...

Photo by Mark Kennedy /Times Free Press.

We lock into the tick-tock of a grandfather clock or the urgent beat of a car's turn signal. Sometimes the beat even leaks out of us and into a tapping pencil or drumming fingers.

Connor Dodson, age 10, has been listening to his internal metronome for years.

His dad has a video of Connor drumming on mixing bowls when he was 3 years old. Even then, his rhythm patterns were syncopated. Connor can slice notes into eighths and sixteenths and then shuffle them to create contagious drum patterns.

Earlier this week, Connor won a national video competition that meshed his skill as a drummer with a recitation of the 45 presidents of the United States — an odd skill, perhaps, but the kind of joyful noise that goes viral on YouTube. He took the top prize in the nation against kids from places such as Georgia, New Jersey and California.

Connor can name all 45 presidents, from Washington to Trump, in less than 30 seconds. And he can do this in near-perfect rhythm while playing his drum set.

"Sometimes I stumble on Nixon and Hoover," said Connor, who lives in Hixson and attends home school. And sometimes presidents Martin Van Buren and Benjamin Harrison get mushed together in his mind to become "Van Burison," he said.

Learning RX, a chain of brain-training centers based in Colorado Springs, sponsored the national Presidents' Day video contest. Connor visits the LearningRx center near Hamilton Place two days a week for "brain training."

Mark Kennedy

Mark Kennedy

Photo by Staff File Photo /Times Free Press.

"At home he sometimes has problems sitting still and finishing the things he needs to in a timely manner," said his mom, Deondra Dodson. Since starting his LearningRX sessions, Connor is having an easier time with math, she said.

Michelle Hecker Davis, director of LearningRX Chattanooga East, said the last three national contests have been won by Chattanooga students. One played the piano and another recited the names of the presidents while skiing down a mountain.

Hecker Davis said that learning the presidents' names — forward and backward — is part of basic training at the 80 LearningRx centers in the United States.

"It quickly strengthens long-term memory, attention and cognitive skills," she said.

Connor appeared on three Chattanooga television stations this week. Things were going well, he said, until he decided to take off his Abraham Lincoln beard. Peeling off the mask made his face turn red, he said.

Connor said it took about three days to perfect his video. At first, he used his high-hat cymbal, but it covered up his voice, he said. He said he learned the presidents by studying a sheet of visual memory cues. For example, "Washington" is represented by a woman watching a heavy weight. So, "watching" plus "ton" equals Washing-ton.

For a prize, Connor won a $100 gift certificate from, where he has been looking at a new pair of basketball shoes endorsed by NBA-star Stephen Curry.

Connor can't decide whether he wants to be a professional athlete or a professional drummer.

With his skills, maybe he should aim higher and try to add his name to the list of U.S. presidents.

Contact Mark Kennedy at or 423-757-6645.

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